More than technology and access: primary care patients' views on the use and non-use of health information in the Internet age

Anne Rogers, Nicola Mead
Health & Social Care in the Community 2004, 12 (2): 102-10
Over the past decade, there has been considerable interest in the transmission of health information made available though the Internet with increasing confidence being placed in the potential power of the Internet to transform communication, clinical practice and relationships with patients. Subsequent to the failure of a primary-care-based initiative designed to provide free assistance and access to health information via the Internet, a survey was conducted. Findings from this survey suggested that facilitating access to e-information is necessary, but not in itself sufficient, to encourage current non-users to start exploring the Internet. The qualitative study reported here was aimed at exploring the way in which people use and perceive the utility of Internet information for managing health and illness and engaging with the health service system. Data was gathered from two sources. Interviews and observations of a sample who had used a free primary-care-based Internet service (n = 5) and interviews with a sample drawn from a survey of patient attitudes to using the Internet for health information (n = 12). The less-considered aspects of access and the use of e-information for health matters related to the varied existing relationships respondents had to computers, health information and health professionals. One of the main reasons why some respondents do not use the Internet to access health information is related to a lack of perceived utility and pertinence of such information for managing their healthcare. The optimal and equitable use of the Internet as a means of complimenting health-service utilisation will not emerge merely from increasing access to e-information. The potential for narrowing or increasing inequality between the information rich and poor needs to be viewed in a broader psychosocial context. The latter includes the nature of existing relationships which people have with the health service and the value that people place on their own capacity to make use of information in managing their healthcare.

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